Congregating in the Elsewhere
the influence of digital exchange on contemporary glass practice
Content in this issue was driven by a theme based on ‘community.’ The true origin of this article was to use it as a vehicle to navigate my slow embrace, timidity, and skepticism of actively participating on social media platforms. Why had it been (and still is) so hard for me to post and respond in such an immediate, public forum? What’s holding me back?...and is that even a thing to be concerned about?
I’m not sure I truly identified all the psychological undercurrents of my hesitation to fully engage social media; but it made for a great start in identifying its pluses and minuses within the context of the professional glass field...especially when examining social media as a digital extension of how we understand notions of community within the physical world.
The article below is an extensive assessment of what role social media plays for us as a professional community. Seriously, extensive.
It begins with my personal hesitation to think of social media as purposeful, breaks down the role social media plays within our current culture, and defines the various roles we play as both participant and audience; it compares the mission statements of several popular social media platforms to the undeclared mission of communal interaction in the early developments of the Studio Glass Movement; the piece then moves into defining the ways in which social media facilitates positive communal interaction; concluding with observations in which social media proves problematic and facilitates a negative impact on communal interaction.
Below is the draft I submitted to my Editor in its full, unedited version to serve as supplemental material to what is seen in the Fall 2016 issue of GASnews:
Chapter 1: Pre-traumatic Posting Disorder
In the late 80s/early 90s, I grew up in a household – maybe even an era - where it was impolite to talk about yourself. To regularly broadcast our accomplishments, our special opportunities, what we are doing, where we are going, what we have done, or who we were with was rude. Especially if no one asked.
I remember a time when this idea of ‘talking about yourself’ was a cultural faux pas that transgressed the most social of transgressions: a public display of egocentrism. It was one thing if brought up in conversation; but for someone to just put their business out there on their own accord was unusual, borderline offensive, and a cautionary sign that you were in the presence of a real piece-of-work personality, no doubt.
Roughly two decades later, it’s safe to say that the tide has certainly turned.
Social media hasn’t only given us permission to publically share glimpses into our personal and professional lives that no one asked about, but is almost obligating us to. I mean, you wouldn’t want your peer group to think you’re uninteresting, do you? You better post something to prove it. You wouldn’t want your colleagues to think you’re unproductive, do you? You better post something to prove it. You wouldn’t want your field to think you’re irrelevant, do you? You better post something to prove it. I wouldn’t say thee world is watching, but those in your world certainly are.
Our sense of place and how we relate to others has certainly changed. In fact, perhaps a better word for it is ‘transformed.’ Due to social media, our personal circle is incredibly broader than it ever would have been without it …and its composed of all sorts of people: people we personally know and love, people we’ve never met (nor possibly ever heard of), people who are our heroes, and even people we might not particularly like. Depending on what social media platform we’re talking about, these are the people you and I have accepted to friend/follow/connect/whatever with us. These are the people within our digital lives…and our digital lives are an extension of not only in how we define our sense of place, but even our sense of identity.
Whether these are people in close proximity to us or based somewhere far, far away, the ease at which we can access each other through social media amplifies our sense of connection. No matter how deep within our circle they are or not, anybody we’re digitally associated with now has the capability of noticing what’s going on with us…and, of course, it works the other way around, too.
The rules of “...its impolite to talk about yourself” that I’ve been conditioned to adhere to since childhood have made social media a really difficult notion for me to embrace. Ever since my first dabbling with Myspace in 2006 I’ve been hesitant to accept the seemingly self-centered function of social media as a cultural norm. Now about a decade later – and seeing these online platforms evolve and multiply - I admit to have been slow to understand its usefulness, and, ultimately, a bit behind the rest of the world in fully engaging it (and by that I mean engaging it as recently as late 2014). I’m no doubt a late bloomer, but I have (finally) been able to define its function for me as both an author of content and a spectator to the content of others.
The multitude of online platforms for which we can reveal whatever it is we want to reveal to the world makes it easy to be seen and/or heard in a variety of ways; and to be seen and/or heard has become very important to us culturally in this new millennium. Perhaps this alone is what had troubled me the most in seeing social media as a potential tool for good; that the impetus to make our private moments/thoughts/opinions known in a very public way stems from some sort of desire to draw attention. The negative connotation of this purpose to ‘post’ seems vain and petty…and we’ve all scrolled past many, many examples that demonstrate when this is true. However, the notion of ‘posting’ also carries positive undertones of giving and selflessness…and we’ve all scrolled past just as many examples of this, too. These are moments when content is posted not to draw attention to ourselves, but to call our network’s attention to somebody or something else.
I can’t help but consider our roles in this digital space and what those roles imply. As authors of posted content - no matter what that content is - we want to represent some extension of ourselves in a public way. As an audience to posted content, we are curious as to what we might discover with what’s revealed and, perhaps subconsciously, assess as to how those things relate to us. It’s here that some sort of exchange is happening, albeit indirectly. Yet, when we decide to become respondents to posted content – or even take action in response to a post in real life - something truly social is indeed happening by way of social media.
Social media is not just a self-serving digital billboard. It can be…and even when it is, it can be done tastefully and with grace. The reasons for our inclination to send our thoughts/business out into the digital world vary, but in my very optimistic heart of hearts I do believe this notion of ‘sharing’ our personally generated content – our ‘business’ - is in a desire to facilitate a connection with others.
We all know what social media is. We all can identify what we love about it and what we don’t. There are social media platforms we know and use; there are tons more we’ll never think about engaging or even ever becoming aware of. Yet, I’m fascinated in how advances in technology introduce accidental, yet sizeable, shifts within how we relate to the world around us. We can undoubtedly hold social media responsible for changing the game in what interpersonal relationships are, what that now means, and what it could potentially develop into.
Social networks, business networks, discussion forums, photo sharing, video sharing, chat and video streaming applications are just few social media formats that point to a new culture of fellowship. Community as we know it in the flesh also exists in its own way online: a gathering of people in a digital space unified by some sort of commonality. If that commonality is ‘glass’, how do these new twists on the notion of community by way of social media impact our field?
My examination begins with finding a shared objective in the mission statement of the 3 most currently popular social media platforms. In doing so, I’ve observed an interesting parallel in how the mission statements of these platforms relate to our seemingly disconnected world of glass.
Facebook claims that their aim “…is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected…to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them” (https://investor.fb.com/resources/default.aspx).
Twitter states their mission as being “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers” (https://about.twitter.com/company).
Although YouTube’s mission is “To provide fast and easy video access and the ability to share videos frequently” (http://www.entrepreneurshipinabox.com/3507/12-mission-statements-worth-checking/), their vision is to “…provide everyone the opportunity to contribute to the global exchange of ideas and offer ways for content creators and advertisers to build, grow, and interact with audiences” (https://www.youtube.com/yt/jobs/vision.html).
These shared virtues to connect, inform, learn, create, and share wholeheartedly with others aren’t that uncommon with what is at the heart of the mission of those early generations at the forefront of the Studio Glass Movement.
It reminds me of the spirit behind the Toledo Glass Workshop of 1962 and the origin story of the Pilchuck Glass School in the summer of 1971; pivotal moments where the excitement of engaging glass for creative, individual purposes was met with the hampered reality of not really comprehending its technical mysteries. Aside from educational necessity, there was a sense of moral obligation to build community as a means to learn from one another, to inspire ideas from one another, and to discover each other’s unknown potential.
I see a parallel in this new digital based territory – especially in the context of social media’s impact on an evolving contemporary glass field. Whether it be seen through something as passive as ‘liking’ what a colleague had posted or as heated as actively responding to a three-week long theoretical thread of conversation, one thing is certain: the internet not only fosters communication, but is influencing new modes of support and engagement within our field.
Our posted images, videos, text, and website links all provide plenty of opportunities for exchange by way of social media that can feed into our individual glass-based development and support our goals. It sounds far-fetched, but it’s there. Some of it is obvious. Some of it is not. You do have to sift through the fluff and stupidity, but meaningful advocacy is more prevalent on these platforms than we might realize. Examples of community that support - if not rapidly enhance – the impact of what we’re capable of accomplishing in our various glass practices.
OK. But how?
From what I can tell so far there are 3 forms of practice-related outreach. The first is when we share content that informs our community about our own glass practice-based ventures to initiate exchange; a second is when we share content that announces practice-based opportunity/happenings unto our community for their consideration and/or involvement; and a third is when exchange takes front seat and we post content that actively invites our community to respond.
Whether out of selfish ambition or not, I think the first form of glass practice-related social media outreach really caters itself well to us as visual artists. Seldom is it that we post our thoughts without some sort of photographic or video-based accompaniment (…or perhaps it’s really the other way around). We’re not only capable of letting everybody know what’s happening in studio, but we can show them. For instance, Instagram and Facebook lets us provide customized glimpses into what we’re currently engaged with or what we’ve accomplished - and quite stylishly so with those provided filters and image editing options. YouTube and Vimeo can document and share our process, inviting comment from our community if they so desire. Periscope can do it, too, but with the added benefit of allowing our community to do it in real time. These platforms not only allow us to show what we’re currently up to, but can announce shows that we’re part of, reveal breakthroughs in our glass making procedure, direct traffic to our websites, mark our brand, promote our educational programs or non-profit organizations, peddle our wares, exhibit our writings, share our influences, and so much more; happenings that we’re not only excited to report about, but, with that information, perhaps indirectly influencing what our community is doing, could do, or could be a part of.
Aside from that, social media supports the notion of community when we share content that announces practice-based opportunity or occurrences unto our community. We can create platforms that inform and invite our international friends, acquaintances, and idols to exhibitions and special events. We can facilitate and support special financial opportunities through crowd funding. We can direct our community’s attention to calls for application that announce special glass practice-based exhibition/employment/residency/grant/educational opportunities. Especially through Facebook, we can organize and join specialized ‘groups’ that allow us to keep abreast of up-to-date news and conversation related to special topics related to our interests - no matter how specific or generalized those interests might be. Whether we’re drawn to communities involving certain glass processes, glass ‘movements’ (or rather, ‘sub-communities’), glass in certain international regions, developments in glass tools or equipment, glass genres of art, specific glass products, interdisciplinary glass cross-over, glass education, issues in glass manufacturing – even glass in the context of contemporary craft or ‘fine art’ (for lack of better term) – we’re not short of being exposed to (or participating in) specialized glass-based collectives we may want to be part of.
The third form of glass practice-related outreach on social media is where I believe social media is indeed approached as a community-driven tool; the one when communal exchange takes front seat and we post content that actively invites our community to take part in. Whether we post from our own profile or address an established group, I’ve seen social media used as a venue for off-the-cuff critique opportunities of our work, to facilitate responses to established blogs or published articles, and to post minute-by-minute reporting by those attending specific gallery openings or art fairs. There are moments that we’ve used social media to invite (or accidentally perpetuate) theoretical debate. There’s also the productive alternative when we use social media to tap into the ‘hive mind’; to ask our online community to help us troubleshoot technical problems within our glassmaking, to help educators provide artist references that fit within a thematic/conceptual context, to make requests for field-related texts/readings, or even to suggest efficient or economic ways of carrying out the most inglorious aspects of our glass making practice (i.e. questions regarding shipping, adhesives, small business taxes, etc). For better or worse, these conversational moments invite social exchange that can broaden what we can do, what we can understand, and who we can become from a significantly broader peer group than just those within our nearest surroundings or social circles. Immediately.
The positive effects are evident: social media are trusted to document our glass-based practiced memories, to learn things, explore things, to advertise our moments, celebrate our accomplishments, to form friendships, and to network amongst our field. It simply provides us a free and simple opportunity to reach a wider audience with whatever it is we want or need to pass along. If used correctly, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are not only places to push our hustle and flaunt our talent, but places where our shared insight can influence others and perpetuate new and unforeseen discovery.
We love the web. We absolutely love it. We love it because of its lightning quick search engines, socially-based ricochet effects, research enabling rabbit holes, and swift information generating indulgences. The perks of social media add to that. The many, many forums that fall under this umbrella help us as glass-based practitioners establish our own identity, hold conversation, make a presence, establish a reputation, build new relationships amidst our field, maintain ones we currently have, and influence field-related dialogues that can change the game. All of this and even more. Engaging these platforms is easy, it’s free(-ish), and the giving is as immediate as the receiving is. It’s perfect, right?
In all of my optimistic assessment, it goes without saying that social media doesn’t have its flaws. It can certainly introduce conflict, touch nerves, and perhaps enable the occasional backwards slide within our community. Even when in the name of facilitating any sort of glass-based exchange. In fact, all the positive things mentioned a paragraph ago come hitched with a negative counterpoint worth considering.
The simplicity of using these platforms means anybody is capable of using them…and that leads to a small handful of issues related to the ‘ease’ of social media. When it comes to asking for guidance and recommendation, the opinions of our community can vary. Even the legitimacy of their opinion comes into question from time to time. The quality of experiences or sense of expertise that our community has (or doesn’t have) on a problem we need help solving can put us further in a bind as easily as it could get us out of one. Sometimes our reliance on a collective intelligence isn’t perpetuated by our curious nature, but by a real-life need to make a split-second business decision. When our time and money are in the balance of our needing fast advice from the hive-mind, how credible can social media really be as a solid option to turn to when desperate for assistance? What questions does this raise in regards to trustworthiness, competency, and reliability in these cases?
If information is power, what about issues regarding integrity? What is lost when the prestige of having your work or your thoughts purposefully sought out to be published within a book or publication is side-stepped with the ease of digital self-publishing? ...that anything by anybody can be issued at any time for immediate public consumption?
In these cases, how can’t we view these social media platforms as detrimental to the notion of community without a bit of pessimism? ...especially when content can come from a source we’re not all that familiar with? …or a source that has a reputation for its lack of credibility? …or when we come across content that is truly off-base and still somehow met with tremendous public appeal within some corners of our field? We all have opinions, but does our public sharing of these things ultimately deserve to be received with respect? ...or even our community’s attention?
What about the phenomenon of cyber-bullying? Is this very public form of abuse and slander something experienced only by high-schoolers? ...or are we as adults – even established professionals – also subject to this kind of shaming? Some of us are courageous enough to put videos and images of our work and process out there. Sometimes even asking for feedback.
If we do, how critical do we truly want our community to publically be? If we don’t ask for it, how critical will we allow our community to publically be in these cases? Where’s the line on these platforms between honesty and undeserved persecution? …and what dictates good form versus bad form in how we as the individual of focus react to these public displays of evaluation?
In fact, how do we define the quality of these sorts of social media exchanges when seeking feedback? Is support and encouragement for what we’re posting seen as fruitful? Are we only seeking to accumulate as many thumbs-up or heart emoji’s as we can? Is that all we wanted in the first place? If so, how is that helpful?
Social media is fast – instantaneous, as a matter of fact. This brings up issues regarding the quality of conversations we have – or could be had – through these platforms. What we post, what we respond to, and how we respond on these platforms can be conversationally equivalent to the nutritional value of a fast-food drive-thru order. Social media and meaningful contemplation aren’t necessarily incompatible, but far from a common occurrence. Social media has always been about brevity and the immediacy of it that we appreciate doesn’t really translate well when we crave truly productive discourse. Thoughtful, purposeful engagement in the digital world is difficult; a world built to cater to the quick and snappy. For instance, it doesn’t take long for the present moment to instantly become the past when our feed is refreshed; any conversation we were just engaged with becoming buried somewhere underneath a mountain of new directions in thought - or even a cavalcade of new posts in general.
Social media is rooted in “the now” and its hurried sense of dialogue can also be seen in the now commonplace usage of emoji’s as communicative tools, as are slang - based acronyms and phonetically shortened misspellings of words. Aside from influencing how we approach ‘conversation’, the sense of urgency of social media has also affected our use of written language.
However, even in the wake of social media’s lightning quick pace, our activity on there is there forever. When it comes to professional matters related to glass-based opportunity we can be researched through how we’ve participated on these platforms. On one hand, it’s great to know that our social media instances of genius can have a fixed place to live in the digital world; that are influence can not only live on and on, but be visited and revisited by our admirers (!). However, that same sense of permanency can also come to haunt us. Especially when our sense of discernment got the best of us and we posted something – or someone posted something related to us - that compromises our image or reputation. Not only can our sour moments impact our glass community’s perception of us instantaneously, but even down the road if (and when) someone important decides to look into us for whatever reason.
What else is there to consider? How much social media activity is too much activity? Is there such a thing as excessive posting? …or bad posting? Are there standards we as a digital community hold for the quality with which we use social media in glass-based practice intent? What happens when we meet ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ in real life? ...especially when our online exchanges have been so meaningful and our face-to-face interactions fall so short of that? Does it matter? Is there to be an expected disconnect between our reality-based relationships with these people and our social media-based relationships with them? If so, what’s this mean? Is it possible to confuse social media interactions with authentic communication? … or, even worse, an authentic sense of (gulp) community?
All in all, a community of any kind has standards. Facebook is a community; Periscope is a community; Instagram is a community; WordPress is a community. They might not necessarily be written down, but these communities indicate that rules have been developed and expectations of involvement are in place; rules and expectations that have been established by us users simply shown in how we’ve been using these platforms. In turn, these social media platforms have their own publication standards not unlike a respected print publication would, like the New York Times. The only difference being that our codes seem more rooted in etiquette (with a pinch of style) than journalistic integrity.
Even so, this shouldn’t restrict us from further questioning ourselves about what we want social media to serve with regard to our own glass-based practice goals and aspirations. What is the purpose of these places of community for us as individuals? What are the notions of acceptability in our usage of these platforms? …what about the notions of acceptability we hold of those within these communities?
Our purposes for being involved with social media can range dramatically. Some of us use it as a public scrapbook, a place to document personal happenings. Some of us see it as billboard, a place to advertise professional ventures. Some of us see it as an opportunity to figuratively scream into a seemingly empty void; finding fulfillment in simply vocalizing ourselves to (or at) something. Yet, some of us see it as a place for professional commune and a place for true social interaction with a vast accessibility to our glass contemporaries.
With all that said, how many more conversations can be had regarding the ways in which we can reevaluate how we perceive ‘community’ – and specifically our ‘glass community’ - by way of social media? I think there’s a lot. In fact, I think there’s more than I’m capable of identifying on my own at this point. I would love your help in defining how we articulate this territory. Hit me up @davidschnuckel or, better yet, post a response with #gasnews and #glassociation …
…let’s write this thing together from here on out.
David Schnuckel is an artist and educator, currently serving as Lecturer within the
Glass Program of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.